Of Whales And Woe - Les Claypool
Well - it’s Les Claypool.
That’s the easiest summary to make of this album. It sounds exactly like the rest of his solo stuff, and like most of Primus’ back catalogue, it’s awkward, dry, groove-driven, with most of the songs based around the narratives of fictional characters.
Standouts include One Better, Off-White Guilt, Vernon The Company Man (this song always strikes my interest as it’s such a different palette to most of Claypool’s work), Phantom Patriot, and Rumble Of The Diesel.
Songs like Vernon The Company Man and Iowan Gal add a nice textural contrast to the album, and there are some great dark moments like Off-White Guilt, and the traditional slap-based funk riffs are littered throughout Claypool’s more “Primus”-like songs such as Nothin’ Ventured and Rumble Of The Diesel. It’s great to hear Les’ flavour in a less traditional environment, surrounded by a large brass ensemble and a not-so irritating marimba.
The bonus inclusion of the Robot Chicken theme song is a nice touch.
Recommended. For fans of Primus, Sublime, The Red Hot Chili Peppers (the EMI years), and Mr Bungle.
Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky - OK Go
I can’t believe this album is already two years old. It’s extremely versatile, and pushes OK Go’s tonal boundaries quite far - almost on a pseudo-electro path.
Standouts include WTF, Skyscrapers, White Knuckles, End Love, and Before The Earth Was Round.
Obviously, this band is known for their groundbreaking music videos (watch the amazing “incredible machine” video of This Too Shall Pass), and the same care and detail is also apparent on the album. The whammy solo in WTF, the tonal bass distortion in Needing/Getting, or the fuzzy kick and snares in This Too Shall Pass - these are all very clever choices which make the album sound more individualistic, and much more colourful (and beautifully disjointed in some sections).
Highly recommended. For fans of The Killers, Gorillaz, Beck, and Modest Mouse.
Octahedron - The Mars Volta
I’m not sure.
I’m never sure about how I feel about this album. There are some beautiful parts throughout the disconnected selection, and feels more like an Omar Rodriguez-Lopez Group album than a Mars Volta album. The abrasiveness has lessened from its predecessor Bedlam In Goliath, and the songwriting is more structured around a traditional band arrangement rather than the usual 8-piece + extras package that you’d normally be used to from Frances The Mute or Bedlam In Goliath.
Standouts include the ballad Since We’ve Been Wrong, Teflon, With Twilight As My Guide, Cotopaxi (my personal favourite - such a strong riff and absolutely love the subtle sonic change between sections), and Luciforms.
This album has a much slower pace than The Mars Volta’s back catalogue, focusing on musical ambience; sustained single keys, minimalist acoustic guitar-driven lines, and the drumming intensity has definitely pulled back.
Recommended. For fans of King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd.
O Soundtrack My Heart - Pivot (aka PVT)
A true soundtrack.
This album has a consistent motion - every swell, every mute, every cymbal crash, and every highlight of colour, whether it be a hammer on or a down-picked string - each has a purpose through this dynamic journey. Listen to the bass filter sweep in the album’s namesake track O Soundtrack My Heart, or the EQ filter on the guitar layers in Fool In Rain. There is so much detail in this album - it’s quite astounding, really.
Standouts include Fool In Rain (there is an amazing remix/reinterpretation of this floating around on a Warp20 compilation), Sing You Sinners, Sweet Memory, Didn’t I Furious, and Epsilon.
The icing is the 2001: Space Odyssey-esque outro entitled My Heart Like Marching Band - the perfect recap to this seamless listen of one of the most interesting instrumental/ambient/post-rock albums out of this decade.
Extremely recommended. For fans of Battles, Holy Fuck, Foals, and Brian Eno & David Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts.
Nothing’s Shocking - Jane’s Addiction
Fun fact - Flea plays trumpet on this album.
This is easily one of Jane’s Addiction’s strongest releases. Despite the internal disputes and negativity around the recording of this record - Farrell and Navarro are at the top of their game.
Standouts include Ocean Size, Mountain Song, Jane Says, Had A Dad, and Idiots Rule.
Engineered and produced by Dave Jerden (sourced because of his outstanding work on Eno & Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts), the album’s soundscape is opened more than normal, feeling lighter and more versatile, littered with beautiful flourishes by Navarro - adding that experimental, atmospheric feel (listen to the solo in Mountain Song and you’ll see exactly what I mean).
Highly recommended. For fans of Guns N Roses, Filter, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (circa Mother’s Milk).
Noctourniquet - The Mars Volta
There’s nothing captivating about this album, which is a real shame, because some of the soundscapes and quality of songwriting is quite good. Don’t get me wrong - I’m not saying it’s bad in any way - The Mars Volta have set an exceptionally high benchmark for themselves with Deloused, Frances, and Bedlam. On this release, TMV welcome a new drummer (equally as impressive as the previous ones), and Owens (the longtime keys player) is noticeably absent.
Standouts include Dyslexicon, The Malkin Jewel (which feels very akin to The Black Keys’ Attack & Release album), In Absentia (I love the soundscape on this - very different), Imago, and Molochwalker.
Structurally, the songs are more conventional, which is surprising considering this is a concept album. The production is solid, and the guitar takes a sidestep in being the feature instrument throughout the album, allowing more room to do breathe for the keys and atmos. Don’t compare this to their previous releases - they’re not the same band. Instead, expect 13 solid songs which flow harmoniously from one to the next.
Recommended. For fans of At The Drive-In, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, and Circa Survive.
Next In Line - Dead Letter Circus
Three solid songs.
This is exactly how a strong EP should be. Three immaculately produced songs with an amazing mix and brilliant songwriting.
Standouts include all three tracks - Next In Line, Reaction, and Tremors.
In fact, this EP was so amazing, I was a little underwhelmed by their debut album This Is The Warning (2010) once it was released. The fretless Warwick was an extremely good choice - the warmth and lack of definition and attack balances the crisp delay and clean distortion of the guitar layers - which also compliment themselves. The drumwork is extremely tight - and Kim’s vocals are once again, the highlight of the album. His octave range and strength is astounding, and it’s great to listen to a singer who listens to his bandmates - complimenting their parts, and knowing when to stop and when to let the riffs do their job (the intro and first prechorus of Next In Line is a great demonstration of this balance).
Highly recommended. For fans of The Mars Volta, Karnivool, and The Butterfly Effect.
The New Normal - Cog
Once you get past the first few listens - you’ll appreciate its ugliness.
Cog have an amazing ability to write ugly melodies and odd lyrical structures that run across bars, and backed with their depressing guitar riffs and dry bass tone, everything works harmoniously. The result is a very unique soundscape which is easily identifiable as Cog’s “sound”.
Standouts include Run, My Enemy, The River Song, Doors, and Anarchy OK.
If you’re new to Cog - this album is definitely the one to start with - just make sure you start the album from Resonate on your first listen - its not as jarring or abrupt as the album’s opener, and gives you a more overall picture of what to expect. This album starts to sound a little dated - but not anything too extreme. The big chord drops and dry vocals are definitely the ones colouring this already dusty landscape, and this album is definitely better because of its ugliness and linearity.
Recommended. For fans of Karnivool, Pacifier, and Deftones.
The New Game - Mudvayne
Not their best effort.
This album sees Mudvayne trying to blend their previous complexity of LD50 with Lost And Found’s melodic sections. While there are some interesting tracks, for the most part some of it gets lost too easily.
Standouts include Do What You Do, Fish Out Of Water, A Cinderella Story, Same Ol’, and We The People.
The guitar melodies are quite gritty and a little over-distorted, and Ryan’s bass has lost the crisp attack it once had (especially on his fretless). The drumming has become straighter, and Chad’s vocals still retain that amazing colour and dryness that he has always had.
This is still a good album as a standalone, and apart from a few ugly riffs here and there, there are some great songs. Just try to avoid comparing it to their previous works - it’s definitely not the same, and you can clearly see the bridge from this album into Chad and Greg’s other outfit, Hell Yeah.
For fans of Slipknot, Hell Yeah, and Pantera.
New Again - Taking Back Sunday
There are no interesting melodies or hooks, and it feels like every song was written in the same writing session. There’s no colour or tonal differentiation between any songs, and falling into the pop-punk genre, it has lost all identity or purpose. Most songs feature the standard I, IV, V type of deal - powering through lazy barre chords and lack of any definition.
Standouts include Catholic Knees and New Again.
I actually like the opening song quite a lot - unfortunately it stands out so much that the rest of the album gets lost in itself. Capital M-E has a moment or two, but there is nothing special about this album. It washes over very easily. This is not one of Taking Back Sunday’s highlights.
For fans of Anberlin, Lostprophets, and Alexisonfire.
My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts - Brian Eno & David Byrne
This breakthrough album was originally released in the early 80s, and was one of the first records to feature the technique of sampling to such a heavy degree (not to mention it was all done on analogue equipment - surely a very trial and error process). Blending funk, rock, and many African and Middle-Eastern influences, this album has a peculiar identity.
Standouts include Regiment, America Is Waiting (with guest bass player Bill Laswell - yep - the legendary man who produced Herbie Hancock’s Future Shock), The Jezebel Spirit, A Secret Life, and Number 8 Mix.
The remastered production is astounding, and definitely worth picking up (it also includes the stems to a couple of songs for you to reuse under the CCL), and with most instruments being played by Byrne and Eno, there is a lot of musical prowess floating around every track.
Highly recommended. For fans of Talking Heads, Battles, Tyondai Braxton, Plaid, and Brian Eno.
Music For Two Basses - Dave Holland and Barre Phillips
Exactly as the title describes.
This experimental album sees Holland and Phillips, two extremely important British bass players, explore their tonality and voices through these 7 tracks, the first two of which are improvised pieces.
Standouts include Improvised Piece I and Improvised Piece II, May Be I Can Sing For You, and Song For Clare.
With two double basses (and sometimes a swap out for a cello), the creativity, voicing, dynamic, technique, and originality for such a limited arrangement is astounding. This album is now over 40 years old, and is still a truly groundbreaking album for jazz, experimental music, and bass playing alike. Special commendation to ECM for releasing such an experimental album, especially for its time.
Extremely recommended. For fans of avant-garde and experimental jazz / rock, Christian McBride, Ray Brown, Charles Mingus, Dave Holland, and Barre Phillips.
Mountainscapes - Barre Phillips
Avant-garde jazz from the 70s. Need I say more?
Standouts include Mountainscapes II, III, IV, VI, and VIII.
Barre’s double bass playing is outstanding - showing his versatility in Boeing and plucking - Mountainscapes I is a brilliant example. The arrangement is very simple, featuring some amazing synths and other experimental tonal choices. The erratic brass sections are welcomed, and Stu Martin’s syncopated drumwork pushes the edge, adding coherency and purpose to each movement.
Recommended. For fans of Dave Holland, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Sun Ra.
Mother’s Milk - Red Hot Chili Peppers
I remember when the Chili Peppers spat out some great records…
And this is one of them. Mother’s Milk - Blood Sugar’s predecessor, features a lot of their true “funk rock” sound, without the maturity of Blood Sugar or Californication. The remastered version of this album has some great b-sides, including a 10 minute instrumental jam, and a couple of Hendrix covers which are quite amazing, not to mention that this was Frusciante’s debut recording with the band post Hillel’s passing.
Standouts include Subway To Venus, Knock Me Down (possibly one of the greatest songs the band has written, and for good reason), Stone Cold Bush, Salute To Kareem, and Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic.
Songs like Magic Johnson, Pretty Little Ditty (notice the riff, anyone?) and Song That Made Us What We Are Today, are nice little breakups to the album - showing the band’s shifting dynamics and quality of rawness. The three Hendrix covers are all amazing (as well as Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground), and the little intro to Sweet Child Of Mine at the end of Punk Rock Classic is a nice touch. Their earlier works (during their time with EMI and the beginning of their time with Warner) are truly the highlight of their career, and the energy on this album is great.
Morning View - Incubus
This album proved that Incubus could mature past their metal/funk roots and write intriguing and original melodies whilst still making their music commercially accessible and still retaining their unique tonal qualities.
Standouts include Circles, Just A Phase, 11am, Mexico, and Have You Ever.
Mike’s guitar sounds and distortion banks have been perfected here - featuring a beautiful shimmer with his gritty riffs from Circles and Have You Ever, and the contrasting cleanliness of Echo or Just A Phase truly shows off this guitarist’s diversity. As always, the bass riffs are solid (that Warwick sounds so silky) and feature just enough movement without turning into cheesy funk riffs. DJ Killmore’s work is subtle yet necessary - he is the prime member responsible for the overall continuity of this album - bridging the heavy, the acoustic, the eastern-influenced, and the pop singles all together to create one coherent listen.